DSM's director of stevia and its sugar reduction platform, Luiz Leite, said the company is focussing on bringing the best-tasting stevia glycosides – primarily Reb M – to market using fermentation.
The advantage of fermented stevia is that companies can create a sweetener using only the best tasting molecules without any of the bitter, metallic aftertaste.
And while there are other players in the fermented stevia field - Swiss biotech firm Evolva is working with Cargill to bring EverSweet to market aiming for a 2018 launch, and has a European and US patent on its process as well as an FDA 'No objection' notification - DSM is the first to seek approval for Europe with a scientific request to the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA).
“There could be an advantage in being first,” Leite said. “[…] But we know we are not the only ones, and it’s good that we aren’t the only ones, for everyone.
“Our objective is to become an alternative for food and beverage manufacturers to enable them to reduce sugar in their formulations, and we are building up a strong position to deliver to the marketplace a sustainable, reliable, very good-tasting and cost-efficient steviol glycoside.”
Leite said the firm expects to receive EFSA’s approval sometime in 2018 while the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) should give the green light this year.
Proponents of leaf-extracted stevia say the fermented kind, which is made without using the leaf at all, could damage stevia’s reputation as a natural sweetener. However, Leite said consumers see fermentation itself as a natural process, associated with traditional products such as beer, and as such did not anticipate this to be a problem.
“It is also important to mention that although we do use an engineered yeast to convert the sugars into high intensity sweeteners, the final stevia product is completely GMO-free. One doesn’t have to label it as GMO,” he said, adding that the firm was confident it would be able to label the fermented extract simply as ‘stevia glycosides’.
“We’ve had a very good experience with similar molecules that have been approved in the past like carotenoids, enzymes and vitamins. Regardless of how they are made, they are labelled and registered as a product family […] with a different E-number depending on how it is made.”